Celianne is a young woman of fifteen who is on the boat with the first narrator. She is pregnant, rarely eats, and “stares in space all the time and rubs her stomach.” Celianne has been raped and impregnated by the soldiers who had come to her house to arrest her brother. During the voyage she gives birth to a girl who is stillborn. The child’s silence underscores the symbolism of her mother’s silence, which indicates that spiritually, Celianne is already dead. When she throws the baby’s body into the sea, she jumps in after it and drowns.
The male narrator’s words are the first in the story. The reader never learns his name, but he reveals his circumstance to the reader through his writings. He is at sea after having fled his homeland, and he has left behind the woman he loves. As the story unfolds, more is learned about the young man from the other narrator in the story. He has left Haiti because he was a member of the “Radio Six,” a group of young people who opposed the Haitian government and broadcast anti-government radio programs. He spends the entire duration of the story on a leaky boat escaping from Haiti to Florida.
The young man’s story is incomplete. The reader never learns his fate because he is forced to throw his diary, which contains his half of the story, overboard. The second narrator, the woman he has left behind, learns that another boat of refugees has been lost at sea. This strongly suggests that he has drowned.
The second narrator is a young woman who lives with her family in Haiti. She has been romantically involved with the young man on the boat, and as the story progresses she comes to understand how much she loves him. Her feelings are repressed because to love him would be dangerous and arouse the opposition of her father. She reveals little else about herself, but her presence in Haiti allows the reader to witness the tragedy inflicted upon the Haitian people by the dictatorial government. The fact that she simply relates these horrors with little emotion or reflection indicates how oppressed the country’s people are. Many of them have been numbed into submission. Near the end of the story, however, the narrator tells her father that she loves the young man, proof that the political situation has failed to suppress the human spirit completely. “I think he should know this about me,” she writes, “that I have loved someone besides only my mother and father in my life.” This realization indicates her psychological growth. At the end of the story, after fleeing the city for the relative safety of Ville Rose she realizes that the young man she loves has died at sea in his attempt to escape.
The young woman’s father is primarily concerned with the safety of his family. While the Tontons Macoutes threaten the neighbors and his wife urges him to intervene, he forces her to remain quiet. When he finds that his daughter has audiotapes of her boyfriend’s anti-government radio programs, he loses his temper with her because he fears for her safety. He leads his family to Ville Rose, where they are safer than in the city. Although he is opposed to his daughter’s involvement with the young man, he respects the young man’s convictions. The father represents the actions and beliefs of the majority of the Haitian people. He wants to cause no trouble, not because he supports or believes in the government, but because he is afraid his family may be tortured or killed by the regime.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Edwidge Danticat, Published by Gale, 1997.